The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings an end to Peter Jackson’s second round of playtime in Middle-earth. If it feels like it’s been years that is because it has been. The adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit – a children’s book – has been in development in earnest since the mid-2000’s, and after close to ten years and three movies, it is finally complete. The first part of what became a trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a relatively satisfying film, showing the reluctant departure from his comfy home of titular halfling Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to help deposed dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) reclaim his kingdom from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) and concluding with Thorin’s acceptance of Bilbo as a member of the party. After the first film’s success, Jackson and New Line Cinema decided to split the sequel in half, leading to a second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, full of bloat and ending with a cheap cliffhanger. The third film looks to capitalize on all of that build-up with what is essentially a two and a half hour fight scene. Return of the King this ain’t, but it isn’t completely without merit.
It happens every year around this time. As December 31st approaches and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences begin thinking about what they will nominate, we get more of what has come to be known as Oscar bait – those movies specifically designed to elicit a generosity of the awards-giving spirit. Not all of the Academy Award-winners will be Oscar bait, but a fair number of the nominees will fall into the category. These are pictures that feature characters or stories calculated in such a way to unfairly manipulate the viewer, so if you’re the type who avoids such tom-foolery, you have to be on your toes in the late fall/early winter. The Imitation Game should trip a lot of your sensors – high-profile portrayal of a tortured genius, war film, distributed by The Weinstein Company – but is it really just bait? Or does the film earn its gravitas?